Way back in the very early 1960s, a teenaged Eric Clapton was crafting his guitar style in various London bands. For a while he was teamed with another guitarist named Tom McGuinness, who would go on to success with 1960s pop-rockers Manfred Mann, then later with McGuinness Flint, the Blues Band and the latter-day Manfreds. The hits of Manfred Mann have now been collected on to a new compilation named simply Manfred Mann – Hits From The Sixties, which we shall come on to later, but for now we’re having a chat with Tom McGuinness. He is self-effacing about the time he spent alongside the boy who would become one of the most famous guitarists in history…

‘It was terribly brief! You know, it was probably six months of my life, both finding our way. People ask me the question, did I know he was that good? No, I didn’t! We were both learning about the music that we loved, which was blues, and Eric came from a more acoustic background than me. I came to it via rock’n’roll, because Elvis had joined the army, Chuck Berry was jailed, Jerry Lee Lewis was hounded out of Britain because of his underage bride – rock’n’roll got tamed and I was looking for something else. Chuck Berry had led me to Chess, Checker and Bo Diddley, then that led me to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed, and a whole world of music opened up for me. So yeah, I was just in The Roosters briefly with Eric, then he and I had gone on for about two months to play with Casey Jones And The Engineers, and then one night Eric didn’t turn up for the gig and I thought, well sod this; if he’s not here, it’s no fun. So the next night I didn’t turn up either! So I had to get a job working as a porter in a furniture store. That only went on for about six weeks because I got the offer of joining Manfred Mann.’

Manfred Mann, 1965 – back row, left to right: Mike Hugg, Tom McGuinness, Mike Vickers; front left: Paul Jones, front right: Manfred Mann

That band had originally been formed as a jazz trio by a South African keyboard player named Manfred Mann and a multi-instrumentalist named Mike Hugg. As they grew into a full band with aspirations on the charts, the band name evolved into Manfred Mann and the Manfreds, and finally just Manfred Mann. They were fronted by an effervescently charismatic singer named Paul Jones, who was a friend of McGuinness. The band had been commissioned to write a theme song for the new TV pop show 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and had got as far as recording an album, when their bassist Dave Richmond parted company with the band. Even though McGuinness had never played the bass, he was offered Richmond’s old job, as he explains:

‘Eric Clapton had just joined the Yardbirds, and I was very envious. I wasn’t playing for two months or something, and then I got the offer, not on guitar, but to play bass with the Manfreds. I had the arrogant ignorance of youth, and I thought, bass guitar, two less strings than the guitar, it’s got to be easy! So yeah, I walked on stage with Manfred Mann, picked up a bass guitar for the first time in my life and that was it. Dave Richmond had played on the records, but there was some dissatisfaction with him, not because he wasn’t a good musician – he was a really fine musician and went on to a huge career as the first cool bass player, a session man on so many records in the ‘60s and ‘70s – but he found the limitations of playing blues and R&B frustrating, and he would fly off at a tangent when they wanted him to just lay down the feel. So my audition consisted of Mike Hugg and Manfred saying to me, do you promise to play simply? And as I’d never played the bass guitar before, I could, in all honesty, say I promise to play very simply!’

Tom was a member of the band by the time they had their first no. 1, an Exciters cover named Do Wah Diddy Diddy. The guitarist in the band at the time was the multi-talented Mike Vickers, who also played sax and flute. McGuinness got his chance to move back to his first love of the guitar when Vickers decided to quit the touring life in favour of a career behind the musical scenes. Tom’s migration to fill Vickers’ shoes left them with a hole in the bass department, and with the band’s burgeoning success, there was only one man to fill it – the venerable Jack Bruce, who was currently playing bass for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. This put Manfred Mann himself in an awkward position.

‘Mike Vickers went off to do a lot of arranging; he arranged some of Paul Jones’ solo stuff and Cilla Black, and all sorts of EMI artists. We had a band discussion and said, we want to get Jack Bruce on bass. And Manfred said, we can’t get Jack, you know? I mean, Manfred literally lived ten doors down from John Mayall and he said, I can’t we can’t poach him away from John. We said, No, it’s got to be Jack, Jack’s the one, we want Jack, we want Jack. Let’s get Jack!

‘I don’t know who approached Jack, but he was definitely interested, because the money was better than he was earning with John. I’m not sure the music was of as much interest to him, but anyway, he said yes. Well, at some point, Manfred ran into John Mayall, who said, are you stealing my bass player? And Manfred said, I would never do that John, or words to that effect, and of course, three days later, Jack handed his notice in, and was off with the Manfreds!’

McGuinness in the middle…

By this time, ironically, Eric Clapton had joined Mayall’s band, and he played guitar on the classic slow blues Double Crossing Time, which is said to have been written in reference to these events! Jack Bruce only played with Manfred Mann for a few months, but his backing vocals can be heard on their 1966 hit and second no.1 single, the adolescently whimsical Pretty Flamingo, which had been written by American record producer Mark Barkan and recorded earlier by both Gene Pitney and Tommy Vann & The Echoes. The very distinctive acoustic guitar on the opening chords of Manfred Mann’s version was played by McGuinness on a vintage steel-bodied National guitar he had bought from his friend Mac McGann, who had previously bought it in a junk shop! By this time though, Paul Jones had already determined to leave the Manfreds, Jack Bruce left to join Cream (featuring the ubiquitous Eric Clapton), and was replaced by Klaus Voorman, and the era unofficially known as chapter 1 of Manfred Mann was drawing to a close.

‘Paul and Manfred sort of tended to rub each other up the wrong way after a while,’ says McGuinness, ‘and Paul was getting hungry to go out as a solo act and not be bound by band decisions. But Paul was very gentlemanly about leaving, and said, I won’t leave until you’ve got a replacement – but that turned out to be six or nine months of looking for the right person.’

That person came along in the shape of Mike D’Abo, a singer/songwriter who was singing at the time with UK group A Band of Angels. He was unanimously voted into Manfred Mann, but as McGuinness says, Paul Jones was a tough act to follow, and it was a period of some upheaval and uncertainty. EMI declined to renew the band’s contract, while offering Jones a contract as a solo act. However, chapter 2 of Manfred Mann started with a new record deal with Fontana for Europe and Mercury for America, a new singer in Paul D’Abo and a new bassist in Klaus Voorman, and their next single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman, peaked at no. 10 in the charts. It wasn’t long before the new line-up had their first no. 1 with another Bob Dylan cover named Mighty Quinn.

The funny thing is that all three of their no. 1s had been subject to huge strokes of luck. McGuinness has a lot to say about chance in the music business, as he takes up the story: ‘We tried Do Wah Diddy Diddy on stage for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, and it didn’t go down very well. But we were with EMI recording our first album at Abbey Road, and our producer John Burgess came up and asked if there was anything in our live set that we hadn’t yet recorded. We said, oh, well, there’s this song we’ve been doing, but we’re thinking of dropping it – we played it for him and he said, that’s a hit! Well, if he’d asked a month later, it wouldn’t have been in the set; we might have dropped it and never gone back to it. As for Pretty Flamingo, John Burgess brought it to us. Paul said, I hate it John, and John said, listen, try it just for me… Well, Paul could have stuck to his guns and said, I’m not singing that, I’m leaving anyway, and you know, we might not have done it. The same with Mighty Quinn; we recorded it and put it aside, because it wasn’t really happening. But Lou Reizner, who was the head of Mercury Records, was having a meal at Mike D’Abo’s house. Lou said, is there anything I haven’t heard of yours? We need a single in America. Michael played him the acetate of Mighty Quinn and Lou Reizner says, that’s a hit! You should put that out. So we all went round to Michael’s the next day to talk about this, and Michael put the acetate on, and Manfred walked over to the grand piano that was in the living room and played along. Then Manfred said, your record player is running fast – we recorded it in A and that acetate’s playing in B flat! So it was. So we went back in the studio and speeded up the master tape and added a couple of little flourishes. So that was a record that might not have come out if Lou Reizner hadn’t heard the acetate.’

Manfred Mann 1966 – left to right: Mike D’Abo, Manfred Mann, Mike Hugg, Tom McGuinness, Klaus Voorman

One of the principles in the band at the time was that they didn’t try to write their own hits. Paul D’Abo was a more-than-able songwriter; in fact he wrote and demoed the hand-wringing ballad Handbags And Gladrags, but apart from a studio-live rendition for a BBC session, Manfred Mann never recorded it. Although they wrote album songs and B-sides, all the singles they staked their career on came from professional writers. With the benefit of hindsight, the whole band realizes this was a mistake, as outlined in some depth on the sleeve notes for the new compilation. Handbags, of course, went on to be a massive hit for Chris Farlowe, Rod Stewart and The Stereophonics amongst others. The BBC session version is included on the compilation as a salutary lesson in misjudgment, and in fact D’Abo eventually recorded arguably the definitive rendition in 2002.

Manfred Mann the band gradually fizzled out some time in 1968, although Manfred and Mike Hugg reverted to their original love of jazz and went on to form Manfred Mann Chapter Three the following year. Tom McGuinness teamed up with former Bluesbreakers drummer Hughie Flint to form McGuinness Flint in 1970. Their biggest hit was a song called When I’m Dead And Gone, written by a couple of members of the band named Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle. They would split off to form a singer/songwriter duo themselves of course, but once again, McGuinness thanks the vagaries of fate for putting them together in the first place.

‘Hughie and I decided to get a band together after Manfred Mann,’ begins McGuinness. ‘Hughie was playing with Alan Price at the time and we were looking for other musicians. We found this lovely singer from Newcastle, Dennis Coulsen, and we were writing a few little bits and pieces together, just the three of us, but we knew we hadn’t got a band yet. Then Hughie went for a drink at a party somewhere in London and met Tony Reeves; he was an A&R Man at Decca, but also the bass player in John Hiseman’s Colosseum. Hughie knew him through recording at Decca with John Mayall in the classic Bluesbreakers line-up.

‘The thing that Hughie and I really wanted was to have a self-contained unit, where all the writing came from within the band. So Hughie might have mentioned that we were looking for people who were writers as well as performers. Tony Reeves said, I know these two fantastic singer songwriters from Scotland, Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle. He gave Hughie a number for them, Hughie rang them up and they came over the next day. We just sat down acoustically, you know, and Benny and Graham played us a couple of songs, and Hughie and I knew that we’d met our musical soul mates. We demoed a few songs at The Work House, which was the studio owned by Manfred and Mike Hugg down in the Old Kent Road in London, and somehow got into a bidding war between EMI and A&M. I mean, talk about fortunate, you know, like each phone call the advance had gone up another $10,000! Ultimately we signed with EMI and only Paul McCartney had a better royalty rate than we had.

Photo shoot for the single Ha! Ha! Said The Clown. At least, we hope that’s what it is…

‘We were around at my place rehearsing and trying ideas out and while we were having a bite of lunch, we sat down to listen to the King Of The Delta Blues album by Robert Johnson, which had just come out.We were talking about what was known of his short life, and then we carried on rehearsing. At the end of the day, I’ve got this vintage mandolin hanging on the wall, and Graham said, Can I borrow that? I said, Yeah. So the next morning Benny and Graham came in and said, we’ve written this song. It’s sort of partially inspired by the life of Robert Johnson. And they played When I’m Dead And Gone, just the two of them, acoustic guitar and mandolin. I was knocked out! I thought it was a hit the minute I heard it, and yes, it was a big hit.

‘We were very lucky to meet Benny and Graham; chance, that’s how it happened. And sadly, we only did the two albums, and they decided they wanted to be off, just be Gallagher And Lyle and not be hampered by the compromises that are part of a band. I don’t regret things, but I feel we’d only scratched the surface of what we were capable of as a band with them. But there you go.’

McGuinness Flint continued with various line-ups for a while, and the members also formed a few short-lived splinter groups afterwards, until one day McGuinness had a call from Paul Jones about getting together for a couple of gigs.

‘Paul said to me, do you want to get a blues band together to play at the Bridge House in Canning Town for a couple of nights? And I said, yes, as long as it’s not going to end up driving up and down motorways and things like that. A couple of nights at the Bridge House – lovely. And he said, do you think Hughie would be interested? So I rang Hughie Flint – well I probably walked round, ‘cos he lived round the corner – and he was interested. For a while we tried various other people but they didn’t click, and then one day a friend of mine told me his laundry had just been delivered by Dave Kelly.’

Kelly was a blues singer and slide guitarist extraordinaire, who had been a member of Howlin’ Wolf’s touring band. He and his sister, singer Jo Ann Kelly, were towering members of the British blues scene, so to find him delivering laundry was disappointing. ‘I said, have you got his number, and he said yeah, I’ve got it. So I rang up Dave and said, d’you wanna play some Blues with me and Paul? And he said, Yeah. I said, do you know any bass players? And he said, well I’ve been playing with this guy Gary Fletcher. So Gary came along and there we were; McGuinness Flint had just broken up a year ago, almost to the day since we did our last gig.’

They didn’t agonise all that much over the new band’s name, seeing as it was a strictly temporary arrangement, and went out under the simple moniker of The Blues Band. As it happens though, the British blues scene was on the verge of another renaissance with the likes of Dr. Feelgood, Nine Below Zero, The Inmates and others taking off at the same time, and the Blues Band became one of the biggest draws on the scene. Apart from one change in drummer from Hughie Flint to ex-Family member Rob Townsend, they continued with the same line-up for an incredible forty-three years, only calling it a day with their album So Long in 2022.

The Blues Band’s debut album, 1980. Left to right: Dave Kelly, Tom McGuinness, Paul Jones, Gary Fletcher, Hughie Flint

The final twist in the tail is that several members of the classic Manfred Mann line-up – without Manfred, who has his own successful career – re-formed in 1991 and started touring under the name The Manfreds, playing tracks from their extensive career, and that band is still going today. Health problems have afflicted some members, and sadly Mike Hugg, who had previously switched from drums to keys, is not able to play at present, nor Rob Townsend, who had been drumming for both The Blues Band and The Manfreds line-up for decades. The current band still features Tom McGuinness on guitar though, and the twin talents of Paul Jones and Mike D’Abo sharing the vocals. The band is on tour as this article goes to press, coinciding with the release of their classic material on the album already mentioned: Manfred Mann – Hits From The Sixties. The packaging features extensive sleeve notes by McGuinness, as well as additional notes from Mike Hugg and Manfred Mann, and a brilliant portrait of Manfred himself, featured at the top of this page, painted way back in 1966 by bassist Klaus Voorman.

The thing is, for all their adolescent appeal, Manfred Mann wasn’t just another band. Mike Hugg is a superb keyboard player and vibraphonist in addition to his drumming talents; Mike Vickers is a multi-instrumentalist, Paul Jones is still a sought-after harmonica player; he and Mike D’Abo are both prolific songwriters, and the whole band could play in multiple genres. McGuinness had aspirations to be a writer, and in fact wrote the sleeve notes for several of the band’s albums and EPs; Klaus Voorman is an artist of some note. McGuinness sums it up nicely as follows:

‘I was very fortunate to join a band of four very creative people, you know? Paul, Mike Vickers, Mike Hugg and Manfred, because, I mean, you know, I had to work hard to keep my head above water as a bass player in their company. No, I’m serious. I had to really concentrate on that and forget about the guitar for 18 months. I played guitar on some of the hits over that period and added the bass later, or the other way around, but I really concentrated on the bass because of working with these people. And of course, the next line up as well, with Mike D’Abo and Klaus coming in. You know? Two more really talented creative people. I’m not saying we were better than any other band that was around, but often in a band there are one or two passengers. But it wasn’t like that in Manfred Mann.’

One last thing then – Tom McGuinness has played a lot of music over the last 60 years, and I dare say there’s a lot he would like to have played. If it really came to the crunch, does he have a favourite genre?

‘No, no, I like music is the glib answer to that. I grew up listening to lots of different music on the radio, you know, I would hear Jimmy Shand and his Scottish band playing jigs and reels on accordion, I would hear brass bands; I would hear the occasional bit of classical music and then these little gems would leap out to me, like first time I heard Earl Bostic on the saxophone or Hank Williams, and then that all led on to rock and roll. I hear things from Bulgaria or Pakistan and I think, wow, that’s amazing – and, you know, I’ve played pop, I’ve played R&B, I’ve played blues. With McGuinness Flint, we played this amazing blend of Scots-Irish music and country and blues and rock and roll and a bit of jazz and a bit of all. I’d love to be able to play country like James Burton, or jazz like Jim Hall. I genuinely do love music. But, you know, if I was only allowed to do one thing for the rest of my life, I’d like to play 12-bar blues.’

Keep on rockin’, Tom.

Manfred Mann – Hits From The Sixties was released on CD and vinyl on 29th September 2023 via Umbrella Music